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Discover the secrets to effective business writing and crafting messages that others want to read and act on. Judy Steiner-Williams, senior lecturer at Kelley School of Business, introduces you to the 10 Cs of strong business communication and provides you with before-and-after writing samples that give you the opportunity to apply each principle and sharpen your communication skills. Judy also points out common grammar and writing mistakes and shares special considerations for formats like emails and reports.
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- [voiceover] An unclear message has as many interpretations as there are readers. Your message is obviously clear to you. You wrote it. But is it clear to the reader? A clear, easily understood message doesn't have to be interpreted. The writer should know exactly what you mean. Look at what you wrote, what language you used, and what you meant. Time spent analyzing these will result in clearer messages. How can you determine the clarity of your message? Ask yourself questions such as: Have I used words or jargon known only to those who work in my department? Accountants may talk about LIFO and FIFO accounting methods.
Computer techs may talk about ports and networks. Are those words common knowledge to folks outside the accounting or computer fields? Also ask: Have I organized the information in a logical, easy to follow pattern? Is my main idea at the top of the paragraph? Have I used transitional words such as first, second, although, furthermore? Another question is: Have I considered the connotation of the words I used? The meaning in the mind of each of your readers.
If someone loudly announced that a snake was in the room, what would you do? Some might run. Some might want to examine it more closely. Others might think of the slang term describing someone who is deceitful in nature. All different connotations. So an unclear message can result when each reader interprets the message on what the word means to him or to her. Here's an actual experience one company had. The shipping receiving department sent to everyone an email with this one sentence: We do not care to receive shipments after 5 p.m.
These innocent sounding words caused quite a problem. People were saying, "Well, you said "you would take our shipments after 5 p.m." And the shipping department people said, "We said we wouldn't take your "shipment after 5 p.m." Can you think of a situation that 'don't care to' would mean 'I will'? Maybe 'I don't care to take you home,' that to most of us, probably means, "Sure, I'll give you a ride." Now a situation that 'don't care to' would mean 'I don't want to'. What about, "I don't care to attend "the concert with you" with a slight sideways shake of the head would probably mean that you don't want to go.
Do you see the different connotations to the words 'care to'? The meaning was unclear to the readers. A clear message would have read, Shipments will be received only between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Let's look at another example: I need you to help me get the display set up by noon tomorrow. Is that message clear? Or would you wonder how much, and what specifically you're being asked to do, or even if you should go ahead and begin? Or should you wait for further instructions? Will others participate in the project? A clear message would have said: When you get to work tomorrow at 8:00, please put the display board in the hallway next to the conference room door.
Sally and I will be there about 9:00. The three of us will be able to get the rest of the set-up completed by noon. If your writing is clear, your readers won't have to read between the lines and make their own assumptions to understand your intended meaning. How would you react to this message: Hey Beth, I need to talk to you and Rex about something urgent when you have time. What is this email about? Is 'when you have time' a polite way of saying this needs attention immediately since it's urgent? What have I done wrong? Our minds can go in numerous directions with unclear messages.
Let's see how we could change this message to make it clear. Hey Beth and Rex, Are you both available Wednesday around 3:00 to brainstorm with me about the new corporate policies, their impact on our division, and the best way to implement them? I value your opinions! This second message is much clearer. You have a definite time, a definite topic, and a definite purpose, and you won't sleep over the possibility that you're going to be fired. Clear communication can be difficult. Yes, I wrote that but that is not what I meant.
The question that will always follow is, "Well, what exactly did you mean?" Be sure the writing is clear the first time.
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